Bangladesh: Cyclone Rashmi strikes coastal districts

News and Press Release
Originally published
DHAKA, 27 October 2008 (IRIN) - Cyclone Rashmi swept across southern Bangladesh on 27 October, killing at least two people and leaving 11 missing. According to the government's Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP), the cyclone made landfall early in the morning with wind speeds of up to 80 kph.

The storm brought down electrical and telephone poles and uprooted trees; more than 40,000 people on 20 chars (river and offshore islands) in coastal Barguna District were marooned due to flooding.

Abdul Barek Molla, chairman of Lata Chapli union council (local government unit) in coastal Patuakhali District, told reporters that about 80 percent of the levees built to keep back the sea had been severely breached by heavy rains, as well as surges that were 5-7ft higher than normal tides.

According to agriculture officials of Barguna and Patuakhali districts, seedlings of winter vegetables in the region were badly damaged in low-lying offshore islands. There were no standing paddy crops in the fields at the time.

Harbour activities in Mongla, the country's second-largest port, have been suspended for two days.

However, the loss of life and property was minimal, thanks to successful preparedness efforts, said specialists.

Cyclone Rashmi developed from a well-marked depression on the west-central and adjoining northwest bay over three days and the authorities had enough time to take precautionary measures.

Some 40,000 volunteers in the cyclone-preparedness programme were mobilised on the morning of 26 October.

"With microphones in hand and moving on bicycles, they informed the people about the impending cyclone," Mohammad Shafiul Alam, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, told IRIN.

"Thousands of them helped tens of thousands of people move to safe places," he said.

At the same time, all maritime ports and fishing communities were updated on the storm's progress from 23 October when the low pressure formed in the Bay of Bengal nearly 600km from the coast.

Radio, television and newspapers were churning out reports on how the low pressure was taking shape into an atmospheric depression and then into a tropical storm and a cyclone. Furthermore, Red Crescent volunteers worked round the clock to evacuate people to safe locations, Alam said.

Even so, the final damage has still to be assessed.

"We are still waiting for the final situation report on the extent of the damage caused by the cyclone. Only then will we take action," Zulficar Ali Khan, emergency specialist of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Dhaka, said.

Sundarbans - a first line of defence

Pivotal in mitigating the storm's ferocity were the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest in the southwest of the country.

"The Sundarbans yet again acted as a bulwark against Rashmi as it did against Sidr last November," said Quamrul Islam Chowdhury, chairman of the Forum of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh.

"Nature is teaching us the value of maintaining natural forests on the coasts of Bangladesh," he said.

On 15 November 2007, Cyclone Sidr slammed into south-western Bangladesh, killing more than 3,500 people and displacing some two million in five coastal districts.


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